Courses available in French


Il ne faut jamais avoir peur d'aller trop loin car la vérité est au-delà.


French 126: Senior Seminar — Victor Hugo: the poet as activist.


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Course Description:

Victor Hugo’s  life spanned almost the entire 19th century, a period of radical social transformation.  He became a successful poet under the Restoration King at a very young age and then proceeded to transform French poetry and his own political and social ideas.  He wrote plays, novels, and essays that launched the movement of literary Romanticism. But he was not only an artist. He was also an activist. He spoke out in favor of social justice and women’s rights, and against slavery, the death penalty, and the oppression of the poor. He also spoke out against the emperor Napoleon III, who took power after the revolution of 1848 by a coup d’état. For this he was punished with twenty years of exile, which he spent in the Channel Islands, returning to France only after it was proclaimed a Republic.

In this seminar we will study Hugo’s literary works (prose, drama, and poetry) in relation to his evolving social concerns and the changes underway in French culture.   We will read his poetry and trace its evolution as his social commitments intensified.  We will read works that galvanized the Romantic challenge to classical esthetics:  La Préface de Cromwell, the play Hernani (which created a scandal) and the poem “Réponse à un acte d’Accusation.” We will read short selections from two very long novels (Les Misérables and Notre Dame de Paris) supplemented by film treatments of them. We will also examine how Hugo treats the death penalty (and incarceration generally) in both fictional works and militant essays, and how he uses poetry to convey ferocious anger at a tyrant. Victor Hugo has a lot to teach us about engaging passionately and uncompromisingly with the world around us both as artists and as activists.


French 102 or equivalent.

Additional Information:

This course satisfies 1 “Literature/Genre” or 1 “Elective” course requirement in the French major. Satisfies College of Letters and Science breadth in Arts and Literature or International Studies.  Senior standing recommended, but not required.

Section times and locations in the Schedule of Classes